Who Is Really Looking Out For Chattanooga?

Monday, April 14, 2014

There has been more than enough debate about what the National Labor Relations Board should do next, how the UAW’s presence could impact Chattanooga, Volkswagen’s stance on unions, and scandals by local politicians Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam.

Why aren’t we talking about the workers instead of rehashing these topics? 

Some might assume that Volkswagen workers have had our say, having cast our vote. It’s these same people who have the misconception that southern workers don’t want unions. The reality is that some workers didn’t vote at all, and if less than 50 workers voted the other way, we’d have our union today. That’s worth another look. 

Remember when the presidential race was close in 2000 and we looked at every hanging chad? It was because we were trying to determine the voter’s intent. Regardless of the initial outcome of the union vote at the Volkswagen plant, I can say that voter intent in the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant is 100 percent clear: our intent is to make our workplace safer, more efficient and stronger in job security. With a union, we want the opportunity to join other Volkswagen workers in having a voice and playing a role in the future of Volkswagen in Chattanooga. We want a voice to participate in discussions and provide input on improvements that can be made to our work lives and production processes. We want a way to express any concerns and being part of a union and works council would provide that vehicle. Most of all, we want to collaborate so that both the company and workers succeed, and to make Chattanooga better, not destroy it.

But, politicians have suggested otherwise, threatening what’s to come for the Volkswagen plant during a firestorm of interference. They say that a “yes” vote will potentially harm the south’s ability to build a thriving auto industry and hurt Chattanooga’s economic future.

That’s not the case. In fact, there is no question that it is the politicians themselves who threaten to destroy our community. Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson, the Republican leader in the State Assembly, and other Tennessee politicians threatened to withhold incentives for possible expansion of the plant. Governor Bill Haslam offered Volkswagen $300 million in incentives, but only if the UAW lost. This threat was made behind what Governor Haslam believed was closed doors - it was found written at the top of the confidential document. Senator Bob Corker made several public statements that he was assured that if workers voted down the union, VW would bring production of an SUV to Chattanooga.

And, most recently, confidential emails obtained by Nashville reporter Phil Williams reveal that Corker’s chief of staff was in direct contact with anti-union organizations about the message of their unprecedented campaign of threats and intimidation. 

What a large web of lies and absurd measures that these Republicans took.  All to keep Volkswagen workers from voting for a union. The real insult is to the workers who care very much about our community. As union members, we would strengthen Chattanooga. How could we want to do anything else but improve our home and make it stronger?

We are already the caretakers of the Volkswagen plant; why not assume that role more formally? Volkswagen has made co-determination an integral part of their global business model – meaning workers have an integral role in managing the company – and they credit it with much of their success. Every Volkswagen plant, except the plants in China, Russia and Chattanooga, are represented on the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council. If we had a seat, we’d have a say regarding future production decisions and where products end up, giving Chattanooga workers a strong voice for winning new products and bringing more jobs to Tennessee. 

So, after all of this, who do you trust most with Chattanooga’s economic future? I hope the NLRB lets us decide our own futures.

Michael Cantrell

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